Pawtucket Red Sox manager Arnie Beyeler feels one of the best things that happened to youthful shortstop Jose Iglesias last season at Portland occurred when he was limited to 57 games after he incurred a fractured right hand when he was hit by a pitch in a May 29 game.
“One thing that was overlooked was that he got to watch Double-A baseball from the sidelines and see the speed of the game and see some mistakes he was making – plus how other people play the game,” said Beyeler, who managed Portland last season. “He’s a very smart kid and a great imitator. He got to sit back and watch a high level of baseball.
“He said ‘You know what? That’s right and that’s not. I can do that and I need to go here, and I need to line up there.’ Those are things you don’t see when you’re on the field.
“He got to sit back and learn some things,” continued Beyeler, “that I think are really helping him this year and will really help him in the big picture.”
According to baseball’s cognoscenti, the “big picture” has the 21-year-old Iglesias playing shortstop for Boston in the not-too-distant future.
Since Iglesias was assigned to Pawtucket instead of Portland with only one year of pro ball on his resume’, could the future be so close that a telescope isn’t required to see it?
“When I was young and scouting and saw (ex-Met phenom) Rey Ordonez play with the flashy stuff … sliding into holes, diving up the middle, throwing from the ground, the quick release … there are similarities,” Beyeler said. “Jose’s a pretty impressive kid when it comes to defense. And he also can put the ball in play. It makes him a lot of fun to watch.”
Moreover, in the 57 games he played last year at Portland, he recorded a .966 fielding percentage (seven errors in 203 total chances). As a result, Baseball America named him the best defensive shortstop in Triple-A ball.
That Iglesias prospered in all aspects of the game at Portland (he hit .285) is noteworthy because he defected from the Cuban Junior National Team while it was playing in a tournament in Hamilton, Ontario in 2008 and has received enough hype and publicity to fill the Grand Canyon.
“It was my decision (to defect) for my future,” said Iglesias, who’s rated as the best defensive player in Boston’s farm system. “Playing in the big leagues is my goal. It was hard because I was staying on my own and my family was in Cuba.
“Leaving my family behind was very emotional. It’s a hard game. When you don’t have a good game and you come home and don’t see your family, it’s hard. But my dad (Candelario Iglesias) came here from Cuba a couple of months ago so that’s been a big help.”
Iglesias’ family may be one reason why, because of the hype, young Jose hasn’t asked the equipment manager to give him a cap that’s three sizes larger than the one he originally was given.
“I think it goes to his upbringing and background,” said Beyeler. “This kid, considering what he’s done and coming over here, I think baseball is the easy part. The kid left his country and went out on his own when he was 18. To do that is unbelievable. And to trust and learn from people he doesn’t know is amazing.
“Fortunately, his development has been outstanding. His dad is a great person and a nice guy, just like his son. You look at that support system and that background and the things that this kid has gone through and it’s why I think baseball probably is the easy part.”
For want of a better description, Iglesais’ ability to handle the hype may be because he has tunnel vision.
“I’m focused on my job and try to make this game simple,” he said. “That’s the best thing for me. Just do what I have to do and do the right thing.
“Everything now is coming good when you’re working hard.”
Iglesias worked hard – and was worked hard – each of the last two spring trainings not only by Boston’s staff but also by veteran players.
“Boston almost is like a family,” said Iglesias. “We work together. I have some good teammates in ‘Pedey’ (Dustin Pedroia who, according to Beyeler, has taken Iglesias under his wing and been a stern taskmaster – a player who’s cut the young prospect zero slack), (Marco) Scutaro, David (Ortiz), Adrian (Gonzalez) and (Kevin) Youkilis.
“I always listen to Pedey because he’s been here for a long time. He has great experience and he plays hard. He’s a great example for young people and especially for me.”
Pedroia’s confidence also appears to have rubbed off on Iglesias – but only to the point where he’s confident in his abilities and is anything but over-confident.
“I trust my hands and I trust myself because I’m working hard,” he said. “I’m very focused on making the routine play. I’m very focused on the little things. I learned that last year in my first professional season.
“I wasn’t surprised (when he was assigned to Pawtucket). My goal has been to play in the big leagues for years and help the team win. I’m working hard and focusing on what I have to do. The organization made the decision and I’m here. I’m excited to play in Triple A. (The International League) is a great league and I’m on a good team.”
The obvious question is what does Iglesias have to do in order to play on the major-league team?
“Just play the game, be smart in the field, take care of my body and eat healthy,” he said. “You have to make a lot of sacrifices. And when you’re not doing well, you have to forget about it and remember tomorrow is a new day. When you focus on what you want, no matter what you do in one game, at the end of the day you see good things.”